If you're one of the eight million merchants that accepts credit cards in the U.S., listen up: As of Thursday, a new standard for credit cards officially goes into effect that will alter how you take payments.

It's called EMV, short for Europay, Mastercard, and Visa. And it involves newly issued cards that have micro-processors embedded in them that encrypt customer information. The cards are considered more secure, as it's harder for fraudsters to duplicate them. Most important: If you haven't upgraded to newer point of sale machines that accept the cards, generally speaking you'll be on the hook for any fraud that happens with these cards after October 1.

Just as important, the days of swiping credit cards will soon be gone forever. Instead, EMV requires consumers to dip cards into newly-configured payment terminals.

Merchants especially need to prepare for an onslaught of confusion during the upcoming holiday season, beginning with Black Friday, when many store owners make a sizable chunk of their annual sales. As it is, lines tend to snake ominously enough from November through the end of the year. EMV cards are expected to increase checkout times, and that could be compounded by customer confusion or even anger about the new process.

Finally, even if you're resolved to stay on top of this issue, it could take several months, as some merchants are reporting that the chip readers are on back order, and credit card providers aren't issuing chip cards all at once. By some estimates it will take two years for a full rollout of the cards. The U.S. is an enormous market, and there are thousands of banks, not to mention non-bank issuers.

Here are six tips for easing your transition to chip cards.

1. Educate your staff.

This applies especially to the ones manning the registers. This need not be a three-day intensive training session. About 30 minutes will suffice, says Rod Katzfey, vice president for business development and sales for Credorax, a payment processor and merchant acquirer in Atlanta. Run through all the new details with them. (Visa and Mastercard both have information explaining the shift on their websites.) Make sure they know what EMV is and that your terminals are ready to accept the cards. Instruct them that chip cards must be dipped, not swiped as the older magnetic stripe cards are. The length of time for the transaction will more than double to about 10 seconds, according to Aite Group, a financial services research company.

2. Be vigilant. 

As migration to chip cards in other countries has shown, there's a strong likelihood consumers will forget to take their cards with them. Instruct your staff to be extra-vigilant in making sure that customers retrieve their cards; otherwise, you may wind up with a stack of them at the end of the day, and some irate consumers to boot.

3. Talk to customers.

If your operations are small and you have regular contact with your customers, consider letting them know why the card changeover is important. "Make sure they understand the liability shift protects them, and helps the business control costs by reducing fraud," Katzfey says.

4. Get some beeps.

Some terminals allow you to configure them to signal with a beep when the transaction is done, indicating that consumers should retrieve their cards. Terminals can also be configured to issue receipts only after the card has been removed, says Steve Mathison, senior vice president of payment acceptance for First Data, one of the largest credit card processing companies in the U.S. If those functions are available but have not been turned on, talk to your terminal provider about enabling them.

5. Install some signage.

At the register, highlight how the check-out process has changed. Customers will be able to digest it as they wait in line to make their purchases.

6. Turn it off?

As a last resort, you might want to consider turning off the EMV capability of your new terminals from now through the holiday season, says Julie Conroy, research director for Aite Group. That comes with its own risks, as fraud tends to be higher at peak buying times. But the tradeoff may be a more orderly payment process on days like Black Friday. Make your official switch-on date January 1.

Published on: Oct 1, 2015